Let’s get a little muddy…

“Why am I still here?”

This question has been circling in my brain for years… Sometimes slowly, sometimes rapidly. Lately it’s been on the more rapid side. There are many reasons that a person might ask that question, from why they are standing in front of the refrigerator to literally asking why they are still on the planet. My reasons? They relate to the church. Why am I still attending church, why did I agree to volunteer/serve within the church, and why am I in a position of leadership in my church.

This is a not a simple question to answer and the path to *my current* answer is messy and filled with hurt, sorrow, laughter and love. As I sit here typing and then retyping my next sentence, I’ve realized that the answer is a hard answer for many to accept and I want to make sure that it comes across clearly and not misinterpreted. Which ironically is one of the reasons that I keep asking that original question. This is officially your out. If you aren’t ready to get into some mud with me, stop reading now. No hard feelings!

Still reading?

Let’s get into this…

I am angry with the church. Like deep soul, pissed off at the American church. I am furious at how the church has treated people and treated me. The church has deeply wounded me and is still harming others.

(Side note: when I say “the church,” I am referring to the church as a whole. Yes, I recognize that there are individual churches and individual people who do not fit what I am saying. It’s a broad stroke generalization, but unfortunately the issues are more prevalent than not.)

The American evangelical church is no longer worshiping the same Jesus as the one in the Bible. They have replaced the God of the Bible with a distorted picture that just barely resembles what He actually looks like. While they may “preach the word”, they don’t actually live out the Scriptures that they espouse. The church insists that the nation that we live should mimic the words they proclaim. And that the only way to “be safe” in our country is to legislate the morality that they choose.

At some point, the church abdicated it’s role in caring for the poor and oppressed and left those issues for the government to address. They got comfortable in their shiny buildings, turned Sunday mornings into a feel-good checkbox and forgot how to talk to those outside the 4 walls of the building. And when questioned or confronted about these things, the response from the leaders in the church have been less than desirable.

Now before we go any further, please know that I have also been guilty of many of the things I just mentioned. I grew up in the church, spent my most of my life going to church every Sunday, youth group on Sunday evenings, revival meetings and so much more. I have also been in a few different denominations, so it’s not just one that has these issues. I say this to make sure you know that I am not saying that I am better than others in the church. I am saying these things *because* I have been complicit in this and it has taken years of processing and work to get the point that I am today. And I still have plenty of growth and work to do.

Let’s go back to that original question: “Why am I still here?” Why have I chosen to remain with an institution that is so flawed and has so many issues to address? Wouldn’t it just be easier to leave and let the church and her flaws implode?

My answer? Because God wants me here.

As angry and frustrated as I am with the church, I deeply love the people within it. (And outside it!) As flawed as the church may be, to just leave her to flounder and to continue to hurt others is not okay for me. God has given me a heart to see the brokenness and is opening doors for me to help bring healing. My journey is still very much at the beginning, but I know without a shadow of a doubt that this is the path that I am supposed to be on. That the things that I have faced, the hurt that I have endured, the harm that I have seen will only help me to help others. That telling my full story and letting others know that they are not alone will bring people closer to God.

I don’t know exactly what this looks like. But it starts with this simple statement:

God loves the world.

He loves everyone in it. Everyone.

And my role as a follower of Jesus Christ is to love people like God loves them. Through the hurt and the mess. Calling out the church when necessary. Being willing to get dirty and wade through the mud to help others out of it. To bring hope to those that need it. And it’s your role too, if you profess to follow Jesus.

Helloooo…. Is anyone still there?!

Wow… it’s a little dusty around here… It’s been a minute! Or 6 years (ish)…

Whoops. Time flies when you’re having fun. Or not sure what to write. Or can’t write. Or are embarrassed that it’s been so long so you don’t write.

Anyways… I’m baaacccckkkk!! (I think. For this post at least.)

A lot has happened over the last few years, and maybe someday I’ll get into that. But today I’m choosing to focus on something completely unrelated to my family and what I’ve been up to for the last few years. (Sort of…)

Let’s dive in shall we? There has been a consistent theme over the last few years (or decades, or centuries if we’re really being honest) of the church focusing on the message of judgement and shame, and very little on the message of grace and mercy. Especially in the world of the evangelical church. It’s a focus that I have had an incredibly personal experience with that left me disenchanted with the church. To the point that I nearly left the “Church” all together. Several times. The church has taken the unofficial stance over and over that if you commit a sin, particularly a “visible” one, you bear the weight of your shame forever. Note that I said the word “shame” and not “sin”. The church absolutely preaches that your sin is washed away once you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. But they like to keep the shame of that sin hanging around.

You see shame is an easy tool to keep people in line. All you have to do is remind them of what they once did and they will feel that guilt all over again. And guilty people are easy to manipulate. Into doing whatever is you need or want them to do. Shame brings a sense of worthlessness and people want to feel worthy. Of love, of being liked, of being included and so much more. Shamed people are more likely to agree to things they wouldn’t normally because they want to free themselves of that weight. So they will give a little more. Volunteer more. Do anything they can so they no longer feel the shame of past sins. But yet it never seems to be enough.

But that’s not how it’s supposed to work! Once we are saved, all of our past sins are covered by grace. And each sin that occurs going forward (which will happen. We are still human, living in a fallen world) is forgiven the moment we ask God to forgive us. That doesn’t mean that we don’t still deal with the consequences of our sins. We absolutely still do. But we don’t have to carry the weight of the shame anymore.

If you go all the way back to the very first sin in Genesis 3, you will find the account that most of us are familiar with: Serpent meets woman, woman eats forbidden fruit. Woman shares fruit with man, they feel shame and hide from God. God talks to them about it and lays out the consequences of their actions. But at the end of the chapter, before He banishes them from the garden, God does something that is usually glossed over. He makes them clothes so they no longer have to carry the shame of what they did. He didn’t have to, He could have chosen to let them remain naked. But instead he chose to cover them, with grace and mercy (and clothes).

Consequences do NOT equal shame. And the church has got stop encouraging this lie.

Sin is awful and separates us from God. And the effects can last generations. But the grace and mercy that comes with forgiveness covers the shame. And, oh, the freedom that comes with the weight lifted! A freedom that allows us to really live into the full calling that God has for us.

Church, we have to do better. Let’s stop allowing shame to hinder the work of His Kingdom and let people truly live in the freedom that comes with the forgiveness of sin.

Another Angle

So I’ve thought long and hard about this post. I’ve been debating whether or not to write it. And then I debated whether or not I should publish it. In reality, it’s just another post on a subject that has been in the limelight for weeks now. But it’s an angle that most people (mainly Christians) have either ignored or are ignorant about. So here we go:

I love to read. With every book I read, I always analyze it. The characters, the story-line and what I think the author is trying to get at. Some authors tell the same story no matter what. Others are really good at telling different stories even within the same series of books. Some books can be really poorly written, yet have an amazing story-line that makes up for it. And others are well-written, with developed characters, yet the story is boring. It’s what makes it fun for me to read.

A few years ago, I read a trilogy of books that have gotten a TON of attention. You might have heard about them… if not, you’re living under a rock… (in which case, I’m not sure how you found this blog.) In fact, a movie was made about the first one that opened today. Yup, I read the Fifty Shades of Grey series.

Are you done gasping now? Ok… moving on…

There have been countless articles and blog posts and people discussing the ramifications of how this book (and now movie) is dangerous. Most of the ones that come from the Christian sector are focused on the sex aspect of the book. They are soo concerned with how this book has brought to light the “dark secret” of sex and its various fetishes. They cry out that we need to “protect our women” from knowing about BDSM. They fear that marriages will start breaking down because sex has entered mainstream media. (Umm… Hello? Have they not turned on the TV in last decade?) They wonder at the popularity of the book and simultaneously berate those that have read it. They hear that the book contains some questionable material, and write page after page of analysis and warning without every cracking the pages of the very thing they are condemning. There was one (just one) article that I read that touched on the very reason it has become so popular. (I can’t remember where I found it, if I do I will certainly link it here)

Can I tell you a secret? It’s not about the sex….

Sex is not why it’s so popular. The scenes in the book about sex, are not the reason that women are flocking to stores to buy it, or will flock to the theater to see the movie. Sex has almost nothing to do with it.

In short, the book is about the “perfect man”, who has everything a person could dream of, that falls in love with an ordinary girl. A girl, who most people would never think twice about. It details a story that says that it’s ok if he has bad and unhealthy behaviors, because he loves her. And she should accept anything that he says because if she doesn’t, she’ll be alone. Basically, because he is Prince Charming, he gets a free pass to do whatever he wants. And the girl should count herself lucky that she landed such a catch.

That’s what is so dangerous. That is what “the church” should be so concerned with. That is what we need to protect our daughters from. That is what will undermine marriages.

The church (as a whole) has done a terrible job of teaching our children (and by default, society) what a healthy relationship should look like. The church tells us that a “healthy marriage” is one that is a man and a women. It is one where both people go to church. It is a marriage that both parties “saved themselves” for. And as long as you remain a virgin until your wedding day, you get married by a preacher, and go to church services, you will be “happy.” (There’s far more that I want to get into, but I will save that for a future post)

So when a book comes along, that is written in such a way that it is easy to imagine yourself as the main character, that shows that all those dreams that little girls have of “Prince Charming” could come true, it becomes a sensation. That even though that perfect guy actually has some really dark demons, and shows some really terrifying behaviors, it’s ok. It’s ok, because he “fell in love” with someone normal. And because it’s “love”, it’s easy to explain away the bad stuff.

Little girls are taught we just need to fall in love and everything else will work out. As women, we look for that love. And when the church doesn’t teach us what that love is supposed to look like, women look around them to see what others are doing. Instead of demonizing the books and the movies, why isn’t the church showing the world what Love is supposed to look like? Instead of ranting about the perils of this world, why aren’t we sharing the alternative? The church mourns the lost souls who will see this movie and think it is the way that love is supposed to be, instead of stepping out and displaying the amazing Love that is our God.

Instead of shouting about how terrible the book is, why not shout “Over here! This is Love! And it is the most amazing thing you will ever experience!” And then, Live. It. Out.